HIGHLAND — Central coach Nathan Rueter doesn't particularly enjoy employing variations of the zone defense.
But on Saturday, the Cougars coach made an exception.
Daring an athletic Belleville West team to shoot from the perimeter, Central's defense shut down the Maroons throughout, while the Cougars used a balanced offensive attack to prevail in a 60-40 win in the title game of the Scott Credit Union Highland Girls Basketball Tournament.
Ranked third in the Class 2A state poll, Central (23-2) jumped out to an 18-10 first quarter lead and never was seriously challenged by the cold-shooting Maroons, who had upset top-seeded Nashville to reach the title game.
"We don't usually play a lot of zone defense. But with the matchup, we thought it would work,'' Rueter said. "Offensively, we're pretty balanced and once again we had several players step up and play well for us.
"This is a great event. One of the better tournaments in the state and I was pleased at how we executed. We're playing very well right now.''
The Cougars, who last took the title at Highland in 2001, were led by junior Maddie Timmermann's 18 points.
Freshman Kendra Wilken added 17 for Central, while Tori Kohrmann added 11.
But it was the play of 5-foot, 6-inch senior point guard April Gebke which was the big key for Central.
Chosen as the tournament's MVP, Gebke scored 10 points, ran the Cougars' offense and used her high-energy style to spark the Cougars on both ends.
"I guess you could say I came out of my shell,'' said Gebke, while holding the MVP trophy.
Getting seven first-quarter points from Timmermann and five from the 6-2 Wilken, Central jumped out to an 18-10 lead.
West got five points from Jesheon Cooper, but the Maroons inability to sustain its offense against Central's active defense was evident early.
"We didn't play very well, but all the credit in the world goes to Central. They outplayed us from the outset and were clearly the better team today,'' West coach Clayton Fisher said. "I was pleased with our effort. The girls played hard, but after today there is no doubt that Central is the second-best team we've played this year behind Edwardsville."
Cooper paced West (15-6) with 11 points, while sophomore Shay Fluker added 10.
Central outscored West 16-7 in the second quarter and led 34-17 at halftime.
West got no closer than 11 the rest of the game.
Nashville 47, Mater Dei 45
Senior Shaye Harre scored 16 and sophomore point guard Jordi Harre added 15 as the Hornettes held off a late Mater Dei rally to claim the third-place trophy.
Rebounding from its first loss of the season, a semifinal setback to Belleville West, Nashville (22-1) led for most of the game, building as much as a 10-point lead.
But Mater Dei rallied behind the inside play of Jamie Voss and the 3-point shooting of Madeline Lager and Lindsay Perkes.
But Nashville, getting free throws in the closing seconds from Jordi Harre and Shawn Rennegarbe, held on the for the win.
"I thought we came back well, but I knew they (Mater Dei) would make a run at us,'' Hornettes coach Wayne Harre said. "Playing Belleville West with their quickness was good for us. We're better for it.''
Voss led Mater Dei (19-3) with 12 points.
Carlyle 45, Okawville 31
The Indians held Okawville to just two first-quarter points and never trailed as they captured the fifth place game.
Getting 12 points apiece from all-state selection Paige Rakers and 5-10 senior Jessie Beckmann, Carlyle (19-4) used its balanced attack and a solid defensive effort to go on to a convincing win.
Okawville (16-7), playing without starting point guard Joyln Lake (neck injury), got 12 points from Janel Lake.
But Carlyle held Okawville senior Megan Wienstroer, to just nine points, 10 below her average.
"If you can hold a player like her (Wienstroer) below her average, you've got to like your chances because she accounts for about 40 percent of their offense," said Carlyle coach Randy Voss. "I thought our girls did a good job on defense."
"To finish 3-1 in a tournament like this, I'm pleased. We played four games against four good teams.''
Cowden-Herrick 57, Highland 48
All-state forward Micah Jones scored 18 of her game-high 28 points in the first half as the Hornets got past the host Bulldogs in the consolation title game.
Ranked seventh in the Class 1A state poll, the Hornets (14-5) built an early 10-point lead then hung on for the win.
Sophomore Olivia LaPorta led Highland (10-12) with 16 points.